Examining The Sharia Law Religion Essay

For each, we have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had God willed, He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He has given you. So vie one with another in good works. Unto God you will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein you differ.

Qur’an, 5:48


After the tragic events of 9/11, Islam has predominantly been under increased enquiry and scrutiny. The status of women has been targeted greatly, often labelling Islam as oppressive towards women.


In Arabic, Sharia literally means the “way to the watering hole”, symbolically meaning that in the harsh and difficult environment of the Arabian desert, following the path to the watering hole would ensure survival. Hence, in a religious context, if the Sharia was followed devotedly then it would lead the faithful into a pleasurable afterlife.

Sharia Law (or Islamic Law) is based up two foundations: The Quran – which Muslims believe to be the direct word of God sent down from Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammed. The second foundation is the Sunnah and Haddith.

The Sharia is un-codified yet systematic legal system. Un-codified because it has not been written down or collected to create one or more authoritative legal manuals, but nevertheless it is systematic because it is a comprehensible system of doctrines based on religious beliefs.

It is essential to understand that although the Sharia is systematic legal system, it does not have clear and well defined sets of rules and regulations that can be easily applied to real life situations. This is where the role of the Ulama (religious scholars) is vital, because they are ones who dedicate their lives to studying the Sharia and therefore gain the authority to interpret the Sharia to resolve legal problems and apply it to real life situations.

As the scholar Knut S. Vikor describes:

“The Sharia is best understood as a shared opinion of the [Islamic] community, based on a literature that is extensive, but not necessarily coherent or authorized by any single body.”

Believers of Islam believe that the Prophet Mohammed (c. 570 – 632) was the last and greatest of the Prophets that God has sent to reveal the Holy Quran. They believe that his teachings complement and clarify the messages of earlier prophets whose message were held to be distorted or lost over the years. The Prophet Mohammed is regard as the ultimate role model and his life is an example to Muslims on how the ideal Islamic life should be lead but they do not worship him. On the contrary, they believe from the Holy Quran, that Angel Gabriel revealed verbally to the Prophet Mohammed, that God is omnipotent, unique, ascribing no partners and no equal, thus Muslims never treat the Prophet as a Divinity.

Prophet Mohammed was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia around c. 570. As he became older, he became a trader and by the age of 25 he married Khadija bint Khuwaylid, a rich businesswoman who was 15 years his senior. In around 610, Mohammed was meditating alone in a cave and according to Haddith complied by al-Bukhari, Angel Gabriel “in the form of a man” appeared before the Prophet. Gabriel ordered Mohammed: “Recite!” Mohammed replied: “I am not able to read”. The angel then gave him a bone-crushing embrace that it “reached the limit of his endurance” and then released him. Again the angel ordered him: “Recite!” Mohammed again replied: “I am not able to read”. After a third embrace and release, the angel ordered Mohammed: “Recite!” Mohammed then recited the following:

Recite in the name of thy Lord who created-

created man from clots of blood.

Recite! Your Lord is the Most Bountiful One, who by

the pen taught man what he did not know.

This then was the first revelation of the Holy Quran which later formed the first opening verses of Surah (chapter) 96 of the Quran. It took a period of 23 years for the entire revelation of the Holy Quran to form as we know it today. According to Muslims, they believe that the Prophet himself was illiterate and therefore his literate followers would write the revelations with whatever they could place their hands on, “pieces of paper, stones, palm-leaves, shoulder-blades, ribs, and bits of leather.” An authoritative version of the Quran was produced after the Prophets death in 632.

The Quran

The Quran consists of 144 Surahs which, instead of being placed in chronological order, they are grouped in order of their length where the longer chapters at the beginning and shorter chapters towards the end (with the exception of the opening chapter “Al-Fathia”).

And although the basis of Sharia comes partly from the Holy Quran, in actuality it does not contain many exact rules of law. According to the scholar Mohammed Hashim Kamali, he concluded that less than 3 percent of the Holy Quran actually dealt with legal matters. These findings were also corroborated with another scholar by the name of N.J. Coulson who also concluded that:

“The Quran is in no sense a comprehensive legal code. No more than 80 verses deal strictly with legal matters; while these verses cover a wide range of topics and introduce many novel rules, their general effect is simply to modify the existing Arabian customary law in certain important particulars.”

Despite the low numbers of legal rulings from the Quran itself, it is the legal principles in which the Holy Quran brings forward that creates the fundamental nature of Sharia Law and that Muslims jurists draw from the moral and ethical values, which forms the Islamic message that comes from the Holy Quran, to make judgements and informed opinions on many legal matters that the Quran does not cover.

For example, the main theme that is seen throughout the Holy Quran is Justice (‘Adl) and this plays a central part in the Sharia. ‘Adl literally means placing things in the right place where they belong. The Sharia tries to establish ‘Adl by adjudicating grievances and arbitrating disputes to the individuals involved, but also seeks to institute ‘Adl as a whole throughout the community by establishing equilibrium of benefits and advantages in society.

“We sent our Messengers with evidences and revealed the Book and the balance through them so as to establish justice among people” – 57:25 Holy Quran.

The Quranic standards of Justice are objective and irrespective of tribal, racial, national, national or religious backgrounds and differences. There at least fifty- three illustrations in the Holy Quran where people are addressed to be just to others at all levels, in personal or public affairs, in words and conducts, with friends or foes, Muslim or non-Muslim, all must be treated in fairness and with justice.

“O believers! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to God, even if it be against yourself, your parents and relatives and whether it be against rich or poor.” – 4:135 Holy Quran.

“And when you speak (make sure that you) speak with justice.” – 6:152 Holy Quran.

The Sharia does not only controls legal rights and responsibilities of the Muslim people, but it also provides moral guidance of life and human activity in general. Thus the Sharia is split into two main classifications Ibadat (devotional matters) and mu’amalat (civil transactions).

Ibadat is the rules concerning matters and the relationship between man and God. It is important to note that these religious obligations are directed towards the individual and fall outside the scope of the court’s jurisdiction.

Whereas mu’amalat is concerned with the separation of the Right of God (haqq Allah: which refers to the rights of the community or public rights) and the Right of Man (haqq al-‘abd: which refers to private rights).

Under the umbrella of Ibadat, there are the 5 legal pillars of Sharia: [a] The testimony that there is no god but God and that Mohammed is the Messenger of God (Shahadatayn); [b] The performance of prayer (Salat); [c] The payment of alms-tax (Zakhat): [d] The performance of pilgrimage (Hajj); and finally [e] fasting during the month of Ramadan (Sawm).

Here Islam focuses in instilling qualities of justice, trustworthiness, and righteousness through these acts of devotion (Ibadat). Ibadat are part of educating the believer to refrain from causing harm to others and purifying the mind and heart from corruption, selfishness and over indulgence in material purists.

“Surely prayer keeps one away from indecency and evil, and certainly the remembrance of God s the greatest (form of devotion)” – 29:45 Holy Quran.

Furthermore, performing Salat in congregation enforces the doctrine of unity, equality and solidarity among worshipers. These doctrines are continually present in the rest of the legal pillars; fasting, alms-tax, and the performance of the pilgrimage all teach self disciple, sacrifice, and sensitivity towards others. More importantly, there is a greater emphasis on teaching avoidance of lying, degrading conduct, hypocrisy, oppression and so on.

The Sunnah & Haddith

After the Holy Quran, the next authority of the Sharia is the Sunnah and Haddith. The Sunnah in Arabic is translated to “the trodden path” and is the teachings of Prophet Mohammed which contains the legal, religious and social duties of Islam. The Haddith is the traditions and sayings of the Prophet which was preserved by his closest Companions. The Haddith and Sunnah are both very much intertwined and therefore extremely difficult to separate. The difference between the two is that the Haddith are based on the life of the Prophet Mohammed and therefore makes a biographical basis of Sharia Law. The Sunnah is then the formation of the religious, social and legal obligations initially deriving from the Haddith.

There are several thousand Haddith collections, with al-Bukhari (d. 870) and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (d. 875) are considered to be the most reliable Haddith collectors in Sunni Islam who listed around 16,475 Haddith combined (which in their entirety exceeded half a million) . Shia Islam has four official collections of its own.

The main criticism of these collections of Haddiths is that because it has been passed from generation to generation, it could have been transmitted via a defective and interrupted chain of transmitters or it could be well known that the Haddith comes from an unreliable and untrustworthy transmitter and therefore the Haddith can be deemed undependable as a source of law.


Fiqh is defined as a system created in accordance to the principles laid out by revelations and the Prophet’s example. It is a term often used together as equal to Sharia and but not necessarily the same. Where the Sharia comes from mainly divine revelations in the Quran, Sunnah and the Haddith, Fiqh comes from human understanding and knowledge that is developed by legal schools, individual jurists and judges through legal reasoning and issuing a legal verdict (fatwa).

Thus Fiqh is described as “mere superstructure and a practical manifestation of commitment” to the values of morality and faith and as a result created a basic scheme and scale of values in which human conduct could be evaluated: Obligatory (Wajib), Recommended (Mandub), Permissible (Mubah), Reprehensible (Makruh) and Forbidden (Haram). Only the Obligatory and Forbidden categories of the scale are legal and actually derive from the Quran and Sunnah, whereas the other three are non-legal and supplementary to aid believers and promote moral virtues.

Legal Reasoning by Analogy (Qiyas)

Qiyas is the way in which Sunni legal scholars can apply traditional laws that derives from the Quran, Sunnah and Haddith by defining laws from a known ruling to a new ruling. (Shiite scholars on the other hand reject Qiyas as a source of law.) The best example that shows legal reasoning can be shown from the Quranic ruling on the prohibition of wine.

“Wine and games of chance, idols and divining arrows, are abominations devised by Satan. Avoid them, so that you may prosper.” – 5:90 Holy Quran.

From this Quranic verse, we see the legal ruling on the consumption of wine and by analogy, if wine made from grapes are forbidden, then wine made from dates are forbidden as well, as it too can cause intoxication.

We can deduct from this analogy by using the same Quranic verse that the use of narcotics are also illegal as it too can cause intoxication and so on.

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